The new year might only be a couple of days old, but Israel Adesanya has already given the UFC world something to talk about.
Speaking with ESPN's Ariel Helwani about his February bout with Brazilian Anderson Silva at UFC 234 in Melbourne, Adesanya pulled no punches in sharing his thoughts on the match up.
"I'm better than Anderson Silva, I feel comfortable saying that now," the undefeated middleweight said. "When the fight got announced, for the first two weeks I was like 'oh, I'm fighting Anderson Silva', but now it's normal."
The 29-year-old Adesanya was the UFC's breakout star in 2018, winning all four of his fights in the octagon, including a first-round knockout over then sixth-ranked Derek Brunson at Madison Square Garden in New York. The victories took his career MMA record to 15-0, with 13 of his wins coming by knockout.
In 2019, he'll make his first trip to the octagon against Silva, who is arguably the best middleweight champion in UFC history. The Brazilian holds the record for the longest title reign in the promotion's history, with the middleweight title in his possession for 2457 days between 2006 and 2013.
Adesanya, whose style has drawn comparisons to that of Silva throughout his MMA career, told ESPN while Silva might be a UFC great, he was confident he was on another level.
"You have to be able to be comfortable with who you are," he said.
"Sometimes I feel like a vessel, and player one keeps playing with me. I don't know who or what put me in this position – people say God, people say a higher power – but literally the way I'm playing this game right now, I'm playing it with cheat codes.
"Never underestimate anyone, (but) never overestimate them. He's just another bloke with gloves on. He bleeds, cries, (and) when I punch him he will feel it."
The Kiwi hasn't been without his critics in his rapid rise through the UFC rankings, however. After his bout against Marvin Vettori in April, many questioned his ability on the ground. But after beating Vettori by decision, Adesanya got his first headline bout – one which he said was the best of his year.
Adesanya fought then No.10 ranked Brad Tavares over five rounds in July, picking apart the Hawaiian on his way to another decision win.
"You need to have a good dance partner and Brad came to play and we had fun in there," he said of the fight.
"For me it was nice to put everyone on notice and shut everyone up, and I'm going to keep doing it because everyone's going to keep doubting me. But I'm my biggest critic and my biggest fan, so I stay on; I stay woke."
Adesanya won't be the only Kiwi fighting on the card at UFC 234, with City Kickboxing teammates Kai Kara France and Shane Young also with bouts confirmed, with New Zealand-born middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will look to defend his title in the main event.